The (Almost) Date

Last Sunday I went on my first date. Word tends to get outs about these things.

“Mrs. Coleman told Nathan to talk to you,” Christine said on the phone today.

“To talk to me? About what? Am I in trouble?” Good gracious. She knows about the lying.

“I don’t know. Here’s Nathan…”

“Hey Nany, were you supposed to talk to me about something?”

“Oh, yeah. I’m supposed to ask you how your date went.”

“Uhhh…Not very well, I’m afraid.”

“Mom said he was a loser.”

Mothers are likely to overreact when their only daughter calls sobbing from a train station all the way across the country.

But there was another event happening last Sunday, far more important than first dates, pitiful phone calls, or even brain scans. The Sweaty Toothed Madmen
show. (The Madmen are an improv group at Gordon that I’ve been dying to
see since I got here. They performed last semester the same night I
spent in the hospital. Even as I was lying in severe pain on the
hospital bed being poked full of holes by worried-looking doctors, I
was thinking, “I hope I don’t have to miss the show…” ) The
performance began at 8:00 that night, so my cousin and I figured out that if I wanted to be back to Gordon in time, I had to leave Boston on the train no later that 7:00. This was a good plan also because my Uncle and Aunt were the only ones who could pick me up then, and they would go to bed at 9:00.

But by the time she’d drove me to the station, I’d already missed my intended train there. (Not true, I was simply looking at the wrong train times. I found out later that the train came about five minutes after we’d given up and left.) The problem with looking at the sign for weekdays instead of weekends is that you not only think you missed the train you were actually on time for, but you actually miss the train you come back later for, thinking you’re on time. This is how I managed to miss two trains last Sunday. Both by five minutes.

When I came back to my cousins house the second time my aunt said if I missed the next train she was going to call the boy’s parents and tell them it wasn’t meant to be. I’m sure she would have actually done it, too. Aunt Tricia’s good like that. But alas, by a creative combination of reading the right sign and arriving fifteen minutes early to the train station, I found myself (three hours after leaving Gordon) sitting alone on the train, hurtling toward destiny or disaster.

I arrived at North Station at ten minutes to 4:00–when the service was starting at the church I was supposed to be attending, and that was still three stops on the subway away. I pushed my way through the crowds, jumped the stairs out to the street, wove my way through traffic, ran down the escalator, bought a ticket as quick as I could from the electronic vendor, burst through the gate and skidded into the sub tram–seconds before the doors shut behind me. If I’d missed that door I would have been 20 minutes late to the service. (Transportation in Boston is not cheap. At this point I’d already spent $16.50 on this date, and I hadn’t even met the guy!)

He was waiting outside the subway for me…tall, blonde, nice smile, he had that general guy-ish look to him.

If you’ve ever attended a church with pews, you know there’s a certain distance you sit away from the people you’re there with, and a certain distance you sit away from strangers. He sat the stranger’s distance away. So it felt a lot like being at church alone. Actually, I realized about halfway through the singing the feeling I was having was culture shock. I hadn’t been to an Evangelical church service since last Easter–when I vowed to never again set foot in one, and to raise my kids non-religiously. (It may have been an overreaction. All the same, if it hadn’t been for the sermon, I would have renewed that vow right there.) Belvedere mostly chatted with his friend who’d come and sat next to him and ignored me.

I hardly want to recount the time spent standing around after the service. In fact, this whole post should be entitled, A Frightfully Boring Account of a Terribly Dull Evening. I have a really low tolerance level for boredom. It isn’t one of my
better qualities. Furthermore, I’m terrible at feigning interest. At
least past a minute and a half. This was more like an hour. It’s
situations like that one that phrases like, “Just shoot me” were
invented for. I suppose I should say that he had the courtesy to introduce me to his friends. Every single one of them. And to point out anyone else he knew who I didn’t get to meet, and all the men in his small group. There were eleven of them. One hundred and twenty-eight people total are in small groups at Park Street Church. All the small groups meet on Tuesdays nights, but once a month they all meet together. Oh, there was another guy in his small group, he’s pretty cool, and another one over there, oh, no, that wasn’t who he thought is was, but that other guy… etc. etc. ad infinitum… I guess he was hard pressed for conversation topics. Frankly, I wasn’t being much help. I was too busy biting my tongue. Oh, the sarcastic comebacks…

Okay, I might at one point have responded, “This is amazing, we could have small group right here!” But Bel missed the tone and responded, “Yeah, I guess we could.” (A friend of his cocked an eyebrow, as if wondering if he should respond, or if I was actually serious. After a moment, he ventured, “If we did, you know you’d have to leave…It’s a guys group.” “Ah, yes,” I said,” That would be a bummer…” He smiled.)

But hanging around was helpful in one way at least. A female friend of Belvedere’s invited us to join a group of them for dinner. I think Bel looked as relieved as I felt. I was beginning to think my head would explode if I had to endure anymore small talk (very small talk, as Emma Thompson’s character put it in Stranger Than Fiction).

It was on the way to the restaurant that Belvedere disappeared. He was walking next to me at first, and then he said something to a German fellow on the other side of him, who said he was from San Francisco, and I said that I was from L.A. and asked him if he was going back to the bay area for Thanksgiving, and then Bel was gone.  Which was fine, I talked to the German the rest of the way, and he made for much better conversation.

My feelings about the California Pizza Kitchen are basically similar to
my feelings about all restaurants that have bad food, bad service, bad atmosphere, and for all that are really expensive. I’d had to borrow the money to get there from my
roommate, and I had to
order the cheapest thing on the menu in order to have enough money to
get back.

Our group was made up mostly of good-looking post-college guys and their respective good-looking post-college girls. There was one or two extra extra girls who weren’t paired up, my German friend, who’d also disappeared now, and one short-ish, homely fellow nearing his thirties. He was the one point of light in an otherwise depressing evening. After losing my second escort, I was pushed back to the perimeter of the room while the waiters were madly trying to arrange seating for the eleven of us. He was looking at a list of all the California Pizza Kitchens in the US and commented on the fact that he was surprised there were so many since he’d never been before. I said I had, once, but that it was in California, so it made a little more sense. He determined to guess which one I’d been to. He was funny, but the relieving part was that he thought I was too. Thank God, I thought, Someone who gets my jokes!

Belvedere found me again when we were being seated, to sit next to me, and Homely sat across from us. (He did tell me his name, I think, but my brain has this new “Not Relevant
Information” folder where it automatically dumps names the first time
around–courtesy of orientation week at Gordon.) Bel relaxed with someone else as part of the conversation, and we were actually able to talk about some interesting things, though it was mainly H and I participating.

(Um, by the way, if you’re waiting for the dramatic twist in this story–there isn’t one. It’s pretty much downhill all the way.)

It was getting later, and the food was taking forever to come, and I was getting worried about making it home. So I told Bel about how I needed to be back by 8:00 to catch my ride and that I didn’t know what times the trains ran. He contemplated this for a while, then spent the next fifteen minutes phoning and chatting with two of his friends–for the purpose of asking them if they could check online for the train times and eventually figuring out that neither of them were near their computers. Then it occurred to him to ask if anybody at the table knew. One girl immediately pulled a napkin from her purse and peeled off the times–“4:30, 6:30, 8:30, 10:00.”

It was 6:35.

It’s hard to explain what that moment felt like. For lack of anything better to do, I just grabbed my bag and stood up.

“You’ve already missed the train,” he said.

“You don’t understand, I really won’t be able to get back to campus.”

He puffed up his chest, got a grave, heroic look on his face, took a deep breath and said, “Alright, I’ll drive you home.”

As nice as that really was, for a fraction of a second I really, truly despised him.

He didn’t understand…and I couldn’t tell him that having to stay there and be driven home two hours later was worse than missing any train. “Uhhh…no,” I said. “I’ll just…take a different train to somewhere nearby, and have them pick me up there. It’ll be fine…but I really should go.” I was sick of new people and if I had missed my train and my last chance of seeing Sweaty Tooth then I wanted to take my grief in private.

So I got my $11.00, tea-saucer sized caesar salad to go, very genially thanked everyone for the pleasure of meeting them, apologized for the misunderstanding and for leaving early, and said again that I was absolutely sure I would get home just fine.



6 thoughts on “The (Almost) Date

  1. that’s was a wonderfully horrific story!I would love to come to Cali and livebut you see the thing is I’d need somewherecheap to live- and LA is one of the most expensive in the states- also- aren’t youout east? why would I come all the way toLA to see and laugh with my favorite Emilywhen you’re all the way on the other side of the US? Your story made me miss you…you really have got a gift for regailing tales…and for what it’s worth- i get your humor…..

  2. Oh Emily! I am so sorry! I couldn’t help but laugh – mostly in unbelief about Belvedere!My question is, what on earth were his intentions – if he had any at all? Please be comforted to know I will never put you in any kind of similar situation. I miss your face. ;)

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